Refugees and Migrants: International Summits - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:38 pm on 7th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 5:38 pm, 7th July 2016

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate. Images of refugees making treacherous journeys in search of safety have dominated the news in recent times. I sometimes fear that we have become a bit immune to those images, but I hope that no one will ever forget the picture of that lone child being swept up on a tourist beach. That image resulted in an outcry from the public and a call for action—action that I hope everyone on all sides of the House firmly believes needs to be taken.

As we have heard, behind that one image is the story of tens of millions of families forced out of their homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, highlighted, UNHCR figures show that more than 65 million people were affected in 2015—the highest level ever recorded and greater than the entire population of this country. Although the total includes some 21.3 million refugees and 3.2 million people awaiting asylum decisions, the overwhelming majority of the displaced— 40.8 million—are exiled from their home within the borders of their own countries.

The figures have increased by more than 50% during the past five years as levels of displacement reached their highest with violence, conflict and wars. The violence in Yemen, for example, brought about more new internal displacement than any other conflict in 2015, with almost 10% of its population forced into internal exile.

More than 800,000 refugees and migrants came from Turkey into Greece in 2015, accounting for 80% of sea arrivals, while the number of people crossing from north Africa into Italy dropped slightly from 170,000 in 2014 to around 150,000 in 2015. The number of people crossing the Mediterranean increased from 5,500 in January 2015 to a monthly peak of more than 221,000 in October.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the world was not doing enough to tackle a crisis with no end in sight. He said:

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too … At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders”.

And yet, he went on to say—this is perhaps the most worrying thing—politics in some countries is gravitating against asylum. I repeat the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, bearing in mind the commitment that this Government gave to ensuring that asylum seekers could enter the UK from the conflict in Syria. What are the latest figures on reaching the 20,000 target? What are the figures for the first six months of this year? We knew what the commitment was over the Christmas period, but I would like to know the figures for the latest period.

This year a number of events have addressed the issue of refugees and migration. We had the Syria Donors Conference on 4 February in London, co-hosted by our Government and those of Germany, Kuwait and Norway. A resettlement conference was convened by the UNHCR in March to gather pledges to resettle people displaced by the Syrian conflict—and, of course, we had the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May. When we received the report of that summit, I welcomed the Government’s approach in scaling up the methods that we pioneered in the Syria region as a global model for dealing with this protracted crisis of displacement, going beyond people’s basic needs and investing in education, jobs and livelihoods.

In this House, I also welcomed the commitment of an extra £30 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund to make sure that no child misses out on an education. Generations of people in camps face no future and no education. The fund is vital to ensure that that generation is not wasted. Will the Minister update us on the fund and whether and what other countries are contributing?

The September gathering convened by the UN Secretary-General and the summit that preceded it hosted by US President Barack Obama offer a chance to tackle the situation and to strengthen global responsibility sharing. President Obama has declared that he will seek to secure new commitments towards increased and sustained support for UN humanitarian appeals, greater opportunities for resettlement, and expanded opportunities for refugee self-reliance through that programme of education, legal employment and other measures.

The Government have repeatedly said that their approach has been the SDG’s pledge to ensure that,

“no one will be left behind”.

Out of the forum that preceded the May summit, five core principles were adopted which clearly informed the outcome of that summit. The first was to work through national and local systems. We have seen examples in Pakistan, Lebanon and other host countries where children have been educated in national schools. I would like to hear an update on how far those programmes are being expanded.

There is also support for host communities to build social cohesion. That is vital and takes me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Judd in terms of the populations in Jordan hosting a huge number of people. It is not just about the care of the refugees; it is important that we understand and support the host nations, too.

Core principle III is to enable economic participation and stimulate growth. We have seen Jordan’s plan for a special economic zone where Syrian refugees and Jordanian nationals work side by side to develop businesses and to ensure that investment can be attracted by access to the European Union market.

The fourth principle was to provide impactful and innovative financing. I raised the question before about humanitarian programmes that have the potential to make the difference between dependency and development. Will the Minister update us on projects such as providing refugees with cash rather than in-kind goods so that they can stimulate the local economy and benefit the host nations themselves? I know that specific projects have been evidenced in the report.

The final principle, which I know will be addressed at the summit in September, is the need to improve data and the evidence base. We have seen the potential of this with a recent study conducted on poverty and welfare among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. How does the Minister think we can improve the data on refugees to ensure the principle that no one is left behind? The inclusion of refugees and displaced people in national poverty surveys would clearly ensure that their needs are properly reflected in national planning. Of course, data on refugees and financing still will not tell us the full story, but understanding the poverty of people forced to flee and the investments needed to help them would constitute a vital step in the right direction.